A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

"We know first hand how drug costs are forcing residents to make choices that are not good for their health."

"We know first hand how drug costs are forcing residents to make choices that are not good for their health."

January 23, 2016

The legislature's Joint Committee on Health Care Financing held a session last week in Springfield, looking at the impact of skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs. 

Among those speaking was HCFA Executive Director, Amy Whitcomb Slemmer. She brought real-life examples of the how high drug costs are hurting people in Massachusetts:

  • Recently our HelpLine heard from a consumer named Jessica who sought our assistance in September. She called us because her mother has been prescribed a treatment for psoriasis – a chronic and sometimes painful skin condition, that costs her family $400 per month. Without some sort of subsidy or relief, each month Jessica’s family finds itself having to choose between her mother’s injection drug treatment and meeting their rent and food needs. 
  • In October we talked to Beatriz whose daughter’s college insurance plan did not cover the cost of an incredibly expensive drug that she relies on to stay well. Her daughter was struggling with what to do, and eventually dropped out of college, qualified for a different health plan which provided access to her needed medication, but cut her off from a college education.
  • We also heard from HelpLine caller Marisa, who has type 1 diabetes and is fortunate enough to have employer-sponsored health insurance. Marisa struggles to meet the out of pocket costs of paying for frequent co-pays and meeting her deductible as she keeps herself equipped with the appropriate medication and diabetes supplies. One of the ways Marisa chose to cut costs was to cut way back on food, which not only saved her money, but created a drop in her blood sugar. During a doctor’s visit, she was warned about the potential irreversible harm she might cause herself, so she has left her own apartment, and moved back in with family in order to save money and afford the medicine and health supplies she needs.

We called on the legislature to take strong action to reduce the high cost of prescription drugs. One proposal we supported is pending legislation to provide transparency for prescription drug costs. This concept was also endorsed by the Health Policy Commission, which focused on prescription drug cost transparency in its Cost Trends Report recommendations last week (see slide 36 in this presentation for details).

Following the hearing, Slemmer was interviewed by Springfield's Channel 22 about the issue. Click on the graphic below to see the full video interview:

HCFA ED Amy Whitcomb Slemmer interviewed about prescription drug costs by Springfield's channel 22


             -- Brian Rosman